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Tourism Balance Sheet!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019, 09:30 Hrs  [IST]

It’s the election season, and the election fever is already on its way to reach a crescendo. Election seasons are generally considered a ‘dampener’ for business by trade and industry as governance comes to a grinding halt for couple of months at least. However, elections are definitely occasions for stock-taking about governments as well as governance. Did the present government deliver on its ‘T’ promise in the last 5 years? Oh! Sorry, I think I need to first bring a clarity to the letter ‘T’, because there are chances of getting confused between ‘Tourism’ and ‘Toilet’ as people at the helm these days talk more about the toilet numbers than the tourism numbers.

For tourism it was a mixed bag although expectation was at its summit after ‘T’ of Tourism gained a prime position along with four others of ruling party’s election manifesto. Voted into power, it acted quickly on easing the restrictive visa system by rolling out e-Tourist Visa raising great hopes and aspirations in the industry. I still remember, a self-anointed ‘Bhishmpitamah’ of the travel industry issuing a carte blanche assurance of 200% growth in FTAs within a year from the podium from where the Home Minister of the country announced the decision. Five years down the line, the numbers talk loudly than words. There was, of course, robust growth – from 7 million in 2014 to little over 10 million in 5 years. We also saw India crossing the elusive 1% mark of international travel, although through changing the whole algorithm.

It was also for the first time there was mis-match between the government and the stakeholders of the industry in deciphering the 'T' growth. While the government and its agencies have been throwing big numbers of tourist arrivals into the country, the same was not translating into real business for the trade. In between, Ministry of Tourism pressed the Incredible India 2.0 button, shifting the focus to digital promotion mediums to reach out to a larger audience. The digital videos, if the Minister himself has to be believed, became the most watched videos on all social media channels across the world within days of their launch, but after all, proof of the pudding is in the eating. Unless people decide to visit India after watching those videos, benefits of tourism is not going to reach ‘yogic’ India!

On a different note, it is a practice, that governments keep important things for the last moment. The revised CRZ notification, came towards the fag end of its tenure. The decision to rectify major anomalies in the e-Visa system also came through in the last one month. But, the decision to create ‘iconic tourist destinations’, developing resort islands around identified uninhabited islands in A&N, Lakshadweep, etc. are yet to take off. The NITI Aayog strategic document which recommends infrastructure status for tourism projects above INR 1 crore is also yet to find favour. With regional connectivity scheme shaping up, reducing the infrastructure funding cap would provide major boost for capacity building in India’s unexplored hinterland!

P Krishna Kumar
Assistant Editor

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